One of the most frequently asked questions I get is “what camera do you use?” and “what camera should I buy as a beginner?” Daily we see so many amazing pictures on Instagram and other social media platforms and more than ever people are investing in camera gear and learning how to take better photos.
When it comes to beginner photography, there are TONS of cameras available out there. So how do you know which one is best for you?
If you are looking to buy your first camera, it can be a bit confusing. I know it was for me.
A couple of years ago I knew I wanted to start taking better pictures on my travels and share them on social media, but I had no idea what camera to get.
If you’re in the same situation, don’t sweat it. It’s actually pretty easy.
Let’s dig in!
Choosing the best camera for Instagram:
- It’s all in the sensor
- Don’t buy a Point-and-Shoot Camera
- Look for an APS-C sensor
- Skip the full-frame cameras
- Use your phone until you save enough to buy a good camera
- Buy some basic accessories
It’s all in the sensor
In order to find the best camera for you, it’s important to understand what distinguishes a low-end camera from a high-end one. Why is one camera $100 and another $5000?
One of the main differences between cameras is their sensor size, which is the part of the camera that captures the image. The bigger the sensor, the more detail it can capture in a photo so generally the more expensive the camera is. Here’s a cheat sheet on sensor size to help you out:
Don’t buy a Point-and-Shoot camera
A Point and Shoot camera is the cheapest camera that you will find. In the chart above, the red camera in this example is a Point and Shoot style camera. It is very easy to use (hence the name Point and Shoot) but it has a small sensor size meaning it takes photos with low quality and little detail. If you notice, the Point and Shoot camera sensor size is not that different than a smartphone sensor. That means that your smartphone can take about the same quality photos as a Point and Shoot-style camera.
There are a few scenarios under which this camera type would be ideal. For one, not everyone has a smartphone. The Point and Shoot camera is the type of camera that my mom loves to use for family travel photos to share on Facebook. She doesn’t need anything fancy, just something that is easy to operate. Also, you may not always want to bring your smartphone everywhere with you to take photos. I remember feeling uneasy about bringing my $500 iPhone on my first trip abroad and many people might feel the same. They would rather invest $100 in a low-end camera than bring their nice phone abroad.
Look for an APS-C sensor
The next step up (and a big step up) are the APS-C sensor cameras most commonly referred to as DSLR cameras or Mirrorless cameras. These are the mid-level cameras that start at around $400 and are what you see everyone using nowadays. They are a great choice for photography beginners because they won’t cost you an arm and a leg but take significantly better photos than your phone. As you can see in the sensor chart above, the sensor size jump from Point and Shoot or iPhone to beginner DSLR is pretty big. That means these cameras capture a LOT of detail in their photos.
This is the type of camera that I use as well. My Sony a5100 cost me $450 and it is very small and light-weight, yet it’s packed with many features similar to the professional cameras. Because this camera is very light, it makes it very easy to travel with whether I am heading on a backpacking trip or traveling across the globe. I bring it everywhere with me, even kayaking or paddle boarding. I have been using this camera for a couple of years now and I absolutely love it. Other great features are the flip screen for taking selfies and wifi connection for instantly sending photos to my phone, letting me upload my photos to social media in seconds.
A couple of photos taken on my Sony a5100 camera:
Overall this camera takes amazing photos and the quality is so good that my photos have been used in magazines, published by major websites, and used in prints. The way I see it, you don’t need fancy gear or spend all of your savings on the latest “trending” camera to take amazing pictures. All you need is a good beginner camera and a lot of time behind the lens practicing how to use it.
Skip the full-frame cameras
The advanced cameras that photography professionals use come with the largest Full Frame sensor. These cameras can capture the best image detail, but are also much more expensive, usually starting at around $1000.
So does that mean that you need to buy a $1000+ Full Frame camera to take a good photo? Absolutely not. If you are purchasing an expensive Full-Frame DSLR camera for social media posting, you might be disappointed to find out that most social media apps downgrade the quality of photos anyways to reduce the file size. The super-expensive cameras are great for prints and ultra-high-quality digital images, so you should only be looking into these if you have been working in photography for a while and are absolutely sure that you need them. But for social media usage, this is complete overkill.
Besides, what happens to many people is that they get the expensive camera but then they find out they have no idea how to operate all the fancy features. Or they are too afraid to take their $2000 camera on a hiking trip or abroad thinking it might get stolen, broken, or draw too much attention to them as tourists. So the camera just keeps sitting in a desk drawer accumulating dust over years. Getting a nice camera is just like getting a brand new car. We are afraid to take it “off-roading” and get it banged up. But if you went with a camera that is less expensive, you wouldn’t be as afraid to take it on a trip and put it to good use. Just remember, you can always upgrade to better gear down the road when you start feeling more comfortable with photography, and start gaining more knowledge.
Use your phone until you save enough to buy a good camera
Smartphones these days come with excellent cameras installed. A photo taken on a smartphone with the right weather conditions and editing can look as good on Instagram as a photo taken on a professional camera. For example, check out this photo of the Huntington Beach Pier at sunset. It was taken on a beautiful summer evening with amazing natural colors and edited on my favorite phone app Polarr.
Would you be able to tell me that this photo was taken on my iPhone? As a beginner in photography, it’s more important to understand the basics of photography than to start “gearing up”. Save your money, practice with your phone, and buy an APS-C sensor camera when you’re ready.
Buy some basic accessories
When you’ve purchased your first beginner camera, it’s important to start with a basic set of accessories that will make capturing the moment much easier.
No matter what camera you choose, these basic accessories should be in every starter kit:
A good tripod is essential in getting images in low light conditions, such as during sunset and sunrise, or creating smooth water effects such as when shooting waterfalls. Having a tripod also comes in incredibly handy when shooting pictures on your own. I highly suggest getting a lightweight tripod otherwise you’ll end up leaving it at home or in your car most of the time. Instead of getting expensive gear, get the type of gear that you’ll actually end up using. For myself, the weight of the gear often plays the deciding role and this tripod is light enough that I don’t mind carrying it around.
Circular Polarizing Lens (CPL) Filter
Polarizing filters help to reduce glare in water and bring out the best colors when it’s bright outside, especially in the daytime. Having a polarizing lens is a must if you like to photograph water like lakes, ocean, rivers, and waterfalls. This is my favorite polarizing lens filter to use with my Sony camera. It’s very easy to attach to my camera lens and small enough to store in my camera bag when I don’t need it. When buying a polarizing filter note that they come in different sizes so make sure to find one that fits your camera lens.
Neutral Density (ND) Filters
Just like sunglasses for your eyes, neutral density filters darken the image to be able to shoot in bright conditions. They work similar to polarizing filters and attach at the end of your camera lens. This awesome filter starter pack comes with a neutral density filter, a polarizer filter, and a UV filter to improve your image quality during harsh shooting conditions.
There’s nothing worse than running out of battery just when your best images are being captured. Get a few extra batteries and always keep them fully charged. I love this Sony battery packet that comes with extra batteries and a car charging adapter which is great when I forget to charge my batteries the night before and allows me to charge them as I drive to my shooting location.
Extra Memory Cards
Just like batteries, it’s always handy to keep a few extra memory cards on hand. I’ve made the mistake of getting to a location to realize I’ve left my memory card in my laptop so now I always bring a few backup memory cards in my camera bag. My favorite memory cards are these by SanDisk.
When I first got my Sony camera, I didn’t invest in a camera bag. Instead I would just toss my camera in my car, carry it in my hand or throw it in a backpack along with other belongings. Without having a proper place to store it I would get my camera scratched, sandy, or even occasionally drop it. Eventually, with time, I broke my lens and had to get the entire camera replaced. It was an expensive lesson to learn and one I will never repeat again. After I got my new Sony a5100 camera I got the Lowepro camera bag and it’s been a lifesaver. It was the best money I’ve spent to protect my camera gear.
After you find your perfect beginner camera, first learn and understand how to operate it. No $5000 camera can save a photo from a bad angle, bad lighting conditions, or poor post-production editing. A camera is just a tool for you to use in photography, but learning photography skills and editing is what really distinguishes a good photo from a bad one. If you are a beginner in photography and find that you need to step up from your phone, make the jump to a mid-level camera and just start practicing. As you learn new skills, you will feel like a pro in no time.
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